We have been sailing the Celebrity Brand since 1990 and decided to try Azamara last year when it was still the high-end brand of Celebrity. We sailed on the Quest to Southeast and Northeast Asia last winter and were extremely pleased with all aspects of the two - 14 day back-to-back cruises. Thus we booked this 16 night cruise on the Journey while still on the Quest.
Since the Journey and the Quest are essentially the same ships there are very little differences in their layouts. However, our veranda cabin on deck 7 on the Journey had a more convenient layout than the one on the Quest. On the Quest we had a cabin on deck 8 (8031) while this year we were on deck 7 (7075). The deck 8 cabin had the bed next to the veranda door while on deck 7 the love seat sofa is next to the veranda door. The deck 7 layout made it much easier to get into and out of bed for the person sleeping on the side facing the veranda door. They have installed a wall mounted flat screen TV's in the cabins which has the added benefit of freeing up additional storage space where the older CRT type TV monitor was situated.
Our room butler and her assistant were outstanding and we rewarded them with an additional gratuity for their wonderful service. The ship's officers and service staff were friendly, courteous and responsive to any requests we had. Since Azamara Club Cruises only has two ships, it was not surprising to meet crew members from our previous cruise on the Quest. The Hotel Director, Philip Herbert, was on the Celebrity Galaxy when we sailed on it in the Mediterranean Sea in 2006. The hotel services (housekeeping and dining) crew's morale reflects his high devotion to the comfort and cruise experience of the guests and their well being.
The food in all venues is better than Celebrity's and we consider the Celebrity food to be outstanding. We enjoyed breakfast and lunch in the cafe and then had dinner in either the Discoveries restaurant, cafe or one of the two specialty restaurants. Where we ate dinner depended on what was being served, for example on three different evenings there were theme buffets in the cafe.
Of the two specialty restaurants our preference is Aquilina versus Prime C. Although the food is comparable in either restaurant, Steakhouse style dining is not one of our favorite venue since the meals tend to be too "heavy".
Since the ship has less than 700 passengers, the embarkation and disembarkation process was very smooth in San Diego and Miami. Of note is that in Miami we docked at the pier adjacent to Royal Caribbean's headquarters and not at the Miami cruise ship terminal. Thus we avoided the congestion when multiple cruise ships are disembarking at the larger Miami terminal.
This was our forth trans-Panama Canal cruise and what surprised us was the rough seas we experienced after leaving Hautulco, Mexico. A large storm, probably as a result of the El Nino in the Pacific hit the ship. Fortunately the captain and staff warned us to take precautions. The storm was so rough that its after effects prevented our tendering a day and one-half later at San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua and we had to continue on to our next port. Due to the inconvenience and disappointment in missing a port the ship offered during lunch an open bar at the pool and lookout lounge or free glasses of wine at lunch in the dining venues. A nice touch that was enjoyed by many happy guests.
We had a wonderful time on the cruise and met many nice people. We enjoy the adult trivia games and thus had an opportunity to meet fellow passengers with the same interests. The cruise entertainment staff were very friendly and accommodating. The Meet and Mingle for Cruise Critic members was a well planned event and senior officers attended and welcomed us. They even had a end of cruise coffee gathering to say farewell to us.
Although the ship is a nice size with an intimate setting, we still like the larger cruise ships. In particular we miss the Rendezvous Lounge on the Celebrity ships and their larger theaters. The show lounge on the Quest and Journey are too small especially if the event attracts a large audience.
We would consider sailing again with Azamara, but we have previously sailed to all of the itineraries they have scheduled through April, 2011. They should take advantage of their ships' smaller size and find exotic warm weather ports for Northern Hemisphere guests to visit during the winter. The Journey sailing in the Caribbean during the winter months is not that attractive for us to pay a premium cruise fare.